TIFF 2016: Bezness as Usual

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There was a great void within Alex Pitstra that consumed much of his youth. Raised by his mother Anneke, Alex longed to know more about his estranged father Mohsen. So when he was finally old enough to venture off on his own from Holland to Tunisia, to visit Mohsen and his current family, he did what all good filmmakers do and documented the experience. Filming his trips to his father’s homeland over the course of several years, Beziness as Usual is Pitstra’s journey into his family’s past. One that offers many revelations, such as discovering he has a half-sister named Jasmin in Switzerland, and exposes several emotional wounds that do not appear to be healing any time soon.

To truly understand the complex nature of Alex’s family one needs to understand the circumstances in which his folks met and fell in love. Beziness as Usual paints a vivid picture of a time in the 1970s when handsome Muslim men, from impoverished families, provided for themselves and their loved ones by entertaining European women who came to Tunisia on vacation. Taking the women to discotheques and bars, theses unofficial tour guides routinely romanced the female tourists and often received a bounty of gifts and money for their services. Leaving a trail of broken hearts and fatherless children was simply the price of doing “bezness,” as it was referred to by gigolos like Mohsen, his siblings and cousins. Rarely did they give any thought to the consequence of their actions.

Showing the lingering ramifications of Mohsen’s playboy lifestyle on multiple generations, Alex Pitstra’s film weaves a fascinating tale of a family attempting to build a future together while still being torn apart over the past. While Mohsen takes pride in finally having his children all in one place, and having an opportunity to reconnect with Jasmin after all these years, the emotional scars still run deep for Pitstra and his sister. The film presents the younger generation as individuals caught between the European family they grew up with and Tunisian one they are attempting to know. How do they build a bond with one without insulting or hurting the other? As is evident with Anneke, the bitterness of the relationship’s demise, partly due to Mohsen’s growing Islamic beliefs, is still as strong as ever.

The question of trust that permeates every aspect of the film. Despite their father’s best intensions, there is no guarantee that he will not take advantage of his European children, from a financial standpoint, the same way he did their mothers. The half-siblings also have genuine concerns of about their possible responsibilities in regards to tending to their once estranged father if he ever fell ill. Beziness as Usual does not provide any easy answers. Instead, it is a film that deeply understands the complicated nature of familial bonds, especially when history, religion, money and feelings are deeply intertwined.